Sensuality and Spirituality in Friedrich Schlegel's "Lucinde"

Essay 2007 13 Pages

German Studies - Modern German Literature



I Introduction

II Romantic Ideology of the Senses

III Sensuality and Spirituality in Friedrich Schlegel’s “Lucinde”

IV Conclusion


I Introduction

Regarding the sheer functions of the senses, one usually refers to anatomy or medicine. Thinking of the effects of sensual perception on the human psyche, however, one inevitably has to turn to psychology. Even in our postmodern multimedial world, there still exists a certain segregation between outer sensual perception and inner feelings or imaginations. There are rare attempts to bring together both mind and body, medicine and psychology and, for instance, to heal diseases in a holistic way. And yet, in the 18th century, the detachment of sensual perception and spirituality was much more absolute than it is today. Not only was love as a unity of sensuality and spiritual understanding unthinkable, but also sensuality in connection with love was abominated by public opinion (Behler 1962: XXIV). In the then upcoming Romantic movement, the idea of the unity of mind and body was prevalent (Behler 1962: XXXII). Although the Romanticists emphasized the immaterialistic and irrational such as emotion and imagination, they strived to bring together all extremes (see also ch. II). In the novel “Lucinde” by Friedrich Schlegel, the inner state of mind and the outer sensual perceptions determine one another. Taking into consideration this interplay as well as the Romantic vision of unity, one cannot possibly investigate the five senses without referring to the inner state - or the inner sense/senses.

Therefore, in this essay, the mingling of sensuality and spirituality in Schlegel’s “Lucinde” will be analysed. Beforehand, a brief outline of the Romantic ideology of the senses and how it was influenced by earlier philosophers will be given in order to gain a deeper understanding of the topic.

II Romantic Ideology of the Senses

Although sensuality looms large in the era of Romanticism, the Romantic idealism focusses on the inner world as the most important source of subjectivity (Behler 2007: 173). Sensual experience, however, is one of the two main ‘Fountains of Knowledge’, as John Locke states. Either through sensation or through reflection following on sensation we are able to convey new ideas. Locke paraphrased reflection as the inner sense (Rée 1999: 334). The concept of one inner sense collecting the five outer senses goes back to Aristotle. Moreover, Aristotle comes to the conclusion, that there are five inner senses corresponding to the five outer ones:

“The first and most significant of these inner senses was the Aristotelian sensus communis, and then there were formative imagination, comparative imagination, cogitation (vis aestimationis), and memory.” (Rée 1999: 332)

Both Aristotle and Locke were convinced that knowledge comes from the senses and not from the intellect. The Lockean theory was later used by the objectivists/materialists as well as by the subjectivists/immaterialists. While the former state that “we are nothing but what we perceive”, the latter are convinced that “the world is nothing unless we perceive” (Felluga 2000). In other words, the materialists see the mind as a tabula rasa with every idea coming from sensual perception. The immaterialists, such as Bishop George Berkeley, on the other hand, find that we are “oppressed and overwhelmed by the senses”, as “it is not perception but our original conceptions that determine the being of things” (ibid.). Finally, one of the most influential German philosophers Immanuel Kant strives to reconcile both extremes. His conclusion is that we can only perceive things in reference to ourselves, filtered through our ‘sensibility’ (ibid.). We are not able to see the things in themselves, but as they appear to us. This important concept is called transcendental idealism. However, Kant also finds that there is the Understanding, which goes beyond the perceptive capacity called Sensibility. The Understanding makes us trying to comprehend things like God, Freedom or Immortality (ibid.).

Kant’s approach was reinforced 1794 by Romanticist Johann Gottlieb Fichte who, in turn, influenced Schelling, Schlegel, Novalis and Hegel. After the equal ranking of arts/aesthetics among philosophy and science by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, the thinkers of the early Romantic period go even further. Literature in general and poetry in particular has been seen by the Romanticists as the centre of all kinds of art, even as a medium between them (Behler 2007: 3). Romantic poetry has been defined by Friedrich Schlegel as a ‘progressive universal poetry’ of which the main task is to reconciliate contrary concepts (Behler 1967: 204ff.). In order to accomplish a synopsis of all the five senses, for instance, cross-sensory metaphors prevailed in symbolist poetry typical for the Romantic era. Synaesthesia, as this concept is often called, can predominantly be found in the poetry of German writer Joseph von Eichendorff.

Many of the Romantic ideas infringed upon the social conventions existent in this epoch. For in the 18th century, strict segregation of sensuality and reason was common. Particularly, sensual love on the one hand and spiritual love on the other hand were deemed to be completely disparate: “Auf Cartiesianischem Dualismus fußend, war die Unvereinbarkeit von Seelen- und Sinnenliebe eine charakteristische Überzeugung des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts,...“ (Behler 1962: XXIII). The Romanticists, however, tried to overcome this dualism by a monist solution, i. e. they regarded mind and body as a unity. “Lucinde” by Friedrich Schlegel is a showcase sample of this and other Romantic ideas and claims, even though the novel was rejected by many Romanticists (Rouge 1905: 7f.).

III Sensuality and Spirituality in Friedrich Schlegel’s “Lucinde”

As the founder of the Romantic school wrote “Lucinde” in 1799, he had the Romantic claim for individual freedom in mind. Allegedly due to his own experience and certainly because of his own belief, this novel is an enthusiastic apology for the unification of sensual and spiritual love:

“For Friedrich Schlegel love in our finite individual experience combines both the sensual and the spiritual, and any attempt to divide the two or devalue the one in favor of the other is deprecated.” (Blackall 1983: 38)

Moreover, it is a postulation for the freedom of prejudices, especially those concerning a particular sex (Behler 1962: XXVII).

“Lucinde” caused a scandal in both moral and literary terms. First of all, the text called ‘novel’ is a confusing array of different genres, it is – so to speak – everything but a conventional novel. Neither there is a complex protagonist nor a plot as such (Braun 1999: 121ff.). By choosing the form of the text alone, Schlegel already turned against existing rules and conventions. The narrator Julius states in the beginning:

“Für mich und für diese Schrift, für meine Liebe zu ihr und für ihre Bildung in sich, ist aber kein Zweck zweckmäßiger als der, dass ich gleich anfangs das was wir Ordnung nennen vernichte, weit von ihr entferne und mir das Recht einer reizenden Verwirrung deutlich zueigne und durch die Tat behaupte.“ (Schlegel 1799/1964: 8)

As Julius argues, the content calls for a chaotic form. The overall chaos and mingling together of different things is justified here. Thus, the Romantic claim for unity of contrary things is apparent in both “Lucinde”’s form and content. The content itself mostly consists of Julius’ inner reflections rather than an array of events leading to one another. The chapter ‘Lehrjahre der Männlichkeit’, however, is the most ‘novelistic’ one, as it is a chronological narration of events and is told by a third-person narrator.

Many critics find that in this text Schlegel emphasizes the sensual component of love too strongly and thus fails in his attempt to unify both sensuality and spirituality in love. According to Blackall, this is why “Schlegel did not get his message across to most readers” (Blackall 1983: 42f.). Although the sensuality in “Lucinde” is quite overwhelming, most critics ignore the fact that outer sensual perception is always linked with the inner state of mind and thus with the spiritual. This is made obvious in the text. In the chapter ‘Allegorie von der Frechheit’, for instance, after having watched – or imagined – the personified novels and features, the Wit says to Julius: “Das waren nur äußerliche Erscheinungen (…) und du wirst gleich das Innere in dir schauen.” (Schlegel 1799/1964: 20) After this incident, Julius discovers that he has developed a new inner sense. This inner sense is described as follows:



ISBN (eBook)
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393 KB
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Institution / College
University of London – Queen Mary College
Sensuality Spirituality Friedrich Schlegel Lucinde



Title: Sensuality and Spirituality in Friedrich Schlegel's "Lucinde"